The "Waitgain" series just finished up at church tonight. My muscles ached so badly from my outings on Thursday and Friday, but I just couldn't miss the last sermon on waiting, and thankfully, God strengthened me to go and hear it.
As I've mentioned before, I have a great fear of hoping for deliverance from God here on planet earth only to be disappointed. Hoping that my Mom will survive this horrific assault on her life is my primary focus right now, and trying to help her get through this trial has been devastatingly difficult-- both emotionally and physically. I wonder some days, will God take my best friend from me? Will he really test my faith to the point of taking from me the dearest soul I've ever known-- all the while my father ignoring, mocking, and abandoning us to the evil that he sees happening?
Searching for precedent, I can see my mom's dear friend Annette, an amputee, who got off of dialysis with a new kidney just to see her husband pass away, and to shortly follow him in death. Her devotion to the Lord was so fierce, and yet her dreams of living with a new kidney were cut off.
Angie Smith, who is a tremendous blogger at http://www.audreycaroline.blogspot.com/, recently lost her daughter after giving birth. Her sister-in-law lost her baby soon after. The faithful family grieves and mourns the bitter loss of two bright young lives that will not be lived here on earth.
My friend Emily, a young and caring woman, just spent a day last week recognizing her 10 year anniversary of debilitating illness. We've talked about the lost opportunities and the dreams she's had to let go as time has dragged on without healing.
My dear friend Melissa suffers with a punishing progressive illness, stealing her ability to eat and move around, landing her in the hospital repeatedly with life-threatening infections-- all of this happening to a 28-year-old full of passion for the Lord and other people. I reason with God sometimes, "Lord, you've given her so many talents and gifts-- such depth of character, such deep devotion to you." I am in awe of this young woman's perseverance through setbacks, disappointments, crises that rise up again and again. Talking to her always reminds me what it means to live with hope. Never is her hope unrealistic, but like a refreshing spring that sort of bubbles out through the tone of her voice and the way she looks at the world. Her circumstances are never defeating to her, but a reason to fight harder, to pursue better treatments, to research the best experts. When her body fails her, she is the first to point out how she was saved from something even worse. When lights go out all around her, her light shines brighter.
All this is to say that my hope for Melissa has always been for a miraculous healing on earth. A young woman with so much to offer, who volunteers online to encourage those with illnesses much milder than her own-- of all people, she must be one God would want to heal. I ask for this in prayer repeatedly and things seem to improve, but months later another setback occurs. More loss, more pain, more of wondering what God is doing.
It's people like Melissa, Emily, Angie, and Annette that make me ask God, "How can I count on you as a sure thing here on earth?" It's the circumstances in lives of the faithful that never get better causing me to wonder, "Why do you allow so much loss and pain where you could easily bring healing and joy?"
Pastor Rick's sermon today was about waiting with expectation for God's best which is yet to come. In the here and now, in the dark places of pain, in the wake of years of unanswered prayer, this expectation is the driving force for our faith. This little engine of expectation must sputter us through the times when we have no ability to take one step forward based on the decay we *see* all around.
I asked him after the sermon how to cope when I want to pull back from trusting God because earthly outcomes can be so daunting and unpredictable. He encouraged me to not hold back. That simple phrase, "Don't hold back," moved me, and I keep thinking about it tonight. Don't hold back praying for Melissa's healing. Don't hold back praying for my family to be free from abuse, crime, danger, fear, and illness. Don't hold back hoping for dreams on earth, but realize that the real hope lies beyond the grave for all of us who believe in Christ.
My view of heaven has always been a little vague with a lot of clouds. I see the great light of God's throne. I hear the praises of him never-ending. I see the golden streets. But what I had not considered until recently was how glorious, sharp, and real the atmosphere will be. The same God who takes my breath away with the deep purple-pink of a sunset, the thrill of a lover's touch, the satisfaction of the most delicious flavors, the mind-blowing colorful creatures living in the depths of the sea-- (solely created for God's delight because for countless years we humans didn't even have the ability to dive down to see them)-- this same God created heaven. It will be breathtaking, filling our hearts with the sincerest delight, the total fulfillment of what we long for now.
Thinking of heaven as a real place-- the most idyllic earthly haven amplified 1000 fold-- gives me this image of Melissa and me eating together, and after we finish, putting our running shoes on to race around a high mountain, with a clear crystal lake. I smell the tall pine trees and take off like an untamed pony on my strong legs. I dream of not running out of breath because of asthma or getting pained and exhausted, but bounding with limitless energy. I dream of the cleanest air I've ever breathed rushing through my lungs and in my hair. I picture Jesus waiting for us at the top, as a real man, fully with us, smiling and being able to dive with us into the mountain pools-- splashing, laughing. And these glorified bodies that enable us to do all things we cannot do here-- these bodies were worth waiting for. This time with Jesus in paradise was worth the tears we cried. In fact, we can't even remember the tears.
I had to share this image because what I long for is for Jesus to make all things right. I see so much horror around me and hear so much cruelty, and right now I can't see God doing much of anything to make it right. I struggle and labor under the promises of deliverance, when I can easily see that we are NOT delivered.
This morning, I read Psalm 89, which completely captured these feelings of indignation over God's seemingly broken promises to the people of Israel-- specifically the throne of David. They did not yet have the perspective of Jesus reigning on David's throne forever, so to them, it appeared God had forsaken them. What I found so amusingly familiar were the details and great pains the Psalm-writer took to remind God of what he'd promised and then following that up with how it didn't "jive" with reality. I do that same thing to him so often-- confronting him with circumstances like a prosecutor and proudly claiming that they don't "jive" with being delivered, saved, or protected. He is still Lord of it all, and I just don't have the perspective yet to see what he's doing.
What can I do in the meantime, until I have that perspective and can see the complete fulfillment of God's promises to me?
A passage from Hebrews reminds me to look ahead to what awaits-- when I patiently wait on the Lord, I will see the promises of God fulfilled:
"Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."